California has been through three straight years of drought, which triggers the inevitable water emergency declaration. Governor Jerry Brown made it official on Friday as he declared the emergency and asked everyone in the state to reduce water usage by 20 percent. According to a Jan. 17 Sacramento Bee report, Brown was prodded by state legislators and water officials for weeks before he finally gave in and declared the water emergency.
Brown is no stranger to severe dry spells and emergency declarations. He was governor between 1996 and 1997, when the state went through another very severe dry spell. The last governor to declare a water emergency was Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008. Brown lifted that order when wet weather arrived in 2011.
What is causing the drought? A huge, stubborn ridge of high pressure called the Dominant Ridge sits off the coast of California. The Dominant Ridge has been in place for about 13 months. This high pressure area acts like a shield against storms and diverts them.
As a result, 63 percent of the state is experiencing severe dryness that most natives have not seen in their lifetimes. There is no significant amount of rain forecasted in the National Weather Service’s ninety day outlook.
The Sierra snow pack, the source of much of the state’s water, is only at 17 percent of normal.
It is clear that the three year drought has taken its toll on the state’s waterways. Reservoirs are nearly depleted. Creeks, streams and rivers are low. This year promises to be the driest year on record and the situation is dire. According to a Jan. 17 Mercury News article, this will be the driest year in the 153 history of the state. Folsom lake is so low that Gold Rush era settlements are now exposed.
The Los Angeles area has the Colby fire, a massive wildfire that covers about 1,700 acres and can be seen from space. After suffering through the historic Yosemite wildfire, the entire state is on edge.
The city of Sacramento issued a water reduction order.
Now that the emergency is declared, the federal government can implement disaster relief programs. One program, for example, is from the Department of Agriculture. That department can provide low interest loans to farmers who will be hit hard by the drought conditions. Hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland will have to go fallow.
Voluntary water transfers are another tactic used to redistribute water around the state. It is not known how fracking and other water hungry industrial activities will be curtailed. Californians are generally against fracking and would be happy to know that the industry is not using precious freshwater during this historic and severe drought season.